Author Topic: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)  (Read 2165 times)

Offline skyler

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I'm looking for honest feedback. I haven't 100% sold myself on my idea or anything, but I think it makes sense within the limited confines of this great city (Portland).

I live in Portland and am coming into a decent chunk of money to invest (high five figures to low six figures) in the next month or two. As I am still just 31 and I am already on my second career (and not really happy about it), I am considering trying to start a brewery, but not right away. My plan is to first open a beer cart. Here in Portland, we have several "pods" of food carts - essentially plots of land filled with trailors or trucks that serve restaurant-quality food. The carts usually have longterm or month-month leases and they are fun and interesting. Some carts have gone on to expand into brick and mortar restaurants, some have become small chains. Many more just trod along or close down. They've become an established restaurant format over the past decade or so, but nowhere more than Portland. For the past year, beer and wine have been allowed and now most (but not all) of the good pods in Portland have a "beer cart."

My plan is to open one of these beer carts or buy an existing one, then get a lawyer to clear all the paperwork for a nano-brewery, aligning the name of the cart and the brewery so that, when I open a brewery, my beer cart can be my "tasting room" and the brand will already be a little bit established. My plan is to rely on the beer cart's success first, then transition into selling my own beer from a 3BBL (or smaller) system. The thought is that I could have a storefront in a central neighborhood with relatively cheap real estate, while brewing in the cheapest lowest-rent chunk of real estate in Portland. And I wouldn't have to worry about running a pub, just brewing, filling my own kegs, and selling beer by the pint (mine and others).

Also, in this plan, I would keep my day job, brew by myself (or with buddies) and would hire someone (probably two people part time) to work the taps most of the time - at least for the first year or two (I get summers off, so I would be more active during the high season). I would enter every festival/competition and would save/invest everything back into the business for the first year or two and would eventually try hand bottling some "special" beers in 750mL Belgian bottles, and maybe getting a mobile canner or bottler to come around. The ultimate endgame would be to expand to a decent-sized brewpub.

Assuming I can do all this without taking out any loans, does this sound workable?

Offline onfirecj

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2015, 09:43:21 PM »
Sounds good. But how good are your beers?

Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2015, 01:52:42 PM »
One thing to think about with this plan is that the beer cart that serves other brewers' beer is regulated by the state and local authorities but once you connect that beer cart to the brewery then it becomes subject to TTB regulation and subject to more intense state regulation. I have never heard of a brewery with a mobile taproom. (There are certainly many with remote taprooms in fixed places.) I'd have a lawyer in your state look at both TTB and state ABC regs long before you even get started.

I have no idea whether you could sell enough beer in a food truck park to sustain an entire brewery.

Something else to consider is that if you prove this is viable under the regulatory environment and a profitable way for a brewery to sell beer that other breweries in Portland are going to start doing the same thing and create competition in that space. Can you rent space in a pod under an agreement with the landlord to exclude other breweries/beer carts in the same space? Will your beer cart offer something that makes your experience unique (e.g. randalls, keg hopping, casks) that larger breweries cannot efficiently provide in that market? Will the novelty of your operation wear off when others do the same thing and diminish sales?

With that in mind, would it make sense to try to buy out your own pod where you could necessarily exclude other beer sales and select the quality of food that surrounds your beer? Would that give you some income diversification that would benefit you/your brewery? Would that allow you to do special food pairings or collaborations with your pod-mates that offers that unique experience your future competitors cannot?
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Offline skyler

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2015, 03:28:05 PM »
Something else to consider is that if you prove this is viable under the regulatory environment and a profitable way for a brewery to sell beer that other breweries in Portland are going to start doing the same thing and create competition in that space. Can you rent space in a pod under an agreement with the landlord to exclude other breweries/beer carts in the same space?
Yes, that's how most (if not all) cart pods work. I would have the only beer and wine service in my pod. I should mention that Rogue does have a beer cart in a nicely-located pod (I just found out about it in my research).

Will your beer cart offer something that makes your experience unique (e.g. randalls, keg hopping, casks) that larger breweries cannot efficiently provide in that market? Will the novelty of your operation wear off when others do the same thing and diminish sales?
Actually yes. Although the concept was based on the idea that a cart was simply the cheapest way to get beer out, I am a big fan of cask beer and basically none of the breweries in Portland consistently serve English ale on cask. The few that do all serve the cask beer ice cold, which ruins it for me. There is, at present, no brewery in Portland that has a particularly "British" tilt. I would be offering English ales and IPA's and would attempt to have some sort of English-inspired branding. As for dry hopping, dry beaning, and the like, that is reasonably easy to achieve when you're using firkins and pins anyway.

With that in mind, would it make sense to try to buy out your own pod where you could necessarily exclude other beer sales and select the quality of food that surrounds your beer?

A few reasons: 1) there is not much real estate that is "pod-worthy" in inner east side Portland that isn't already a pod. What remains isn't for sale. 2) I don't have half a million dollars to spend. 3) If I had that much money, I would open a larger production brewpub in a brick and mortar location.

Offline denny

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2015, 03:52:11 PM »
With all due respect, sounds pretty pie in the sky.
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Offline skyler

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2015, 04:16:55 PM »
Thanks, Denny. It's good to hear that from someone reasonably local. If I try to talk about it to most Portlanders I know, everyone thinks food cart + craft beer = massive profit. The math I've done implies that it only works if the cart itself can be run essentially without me and sell an average 5 pints an hour.

In truth, the beer cart and brewery are two different businesses that don't necessarily need each other (the brewery needs a tap room, but I don't know that a cart pod is sufficient). Perhaps I should just be looking into opening a beer cart or bar and forget about industrial brewing for another several years.

Offline denny

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2015, 04:28:21 PM »
Perhaps I should just be looking into opening a beer cart or bar and forget about industrial brewing for another several years.

I think that's the direction I'd be looking.
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Offline skyler

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2015, 05:59:08 PM »
Perhaps I should just be looking into opening a beer cart or bar and forget about industrial brewing for another several years.

I think that's the direction I'd be looking.

Yeah, the truth is that, more than anything else, I would like to have a place to go to that is as nice and comfortable as any of the good pubs in Britain that I miss so much. Serving my own beer seemed like icing on the cake, but I think It's smarter to move from beer cart to beer bar to brewpub rather than trying to do two things at once while teaching high school English September to June.

Offline majorvices

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2015, 02:32:43 PM »
If you are going to start a brewery you need to understand that if you want to make any money you have to have a lot of volume. If you don't produce and sell a lot of beer you won't be making any money and you will be sustaining a hobby not a business.

Offline tonyp

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2015, 09:01:07 PM »
If you are going to start a brewery you need to understand that if you want to make any money you have to have a lot of volume. If you don't produce and sell a lot of beer you won't be making any money and you will be sustaining a hobby not a business.

This reminds me of a quote from one of Jamil's podcasts:

"Remember, you aren't in the beer making business, you are in the beer selling business."

That line really struck a chord with me.
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Offline klickitat jim

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2015, 10:50:01 PM »
If you are going to start a brewery you need to understand that if you want to make any money you have to have a lot of volume. If you don't produce and sell a lot of beer you won't be making any money and you will be sustaining a hobby not a business.

This reminds me of a quote from one of Jamil's podcasts:

"Remember, you aren't in the beer making business, you are in the beer selling business."

That line really struck a chord with me.
I'm on the go broke slowly plan. Make beer, drink beer, talk about beer, think about beer... no customers so my income is pretty nonexistent, but I also dont have overhead, intrest, payroll, or taxes, so I figure I'm in better shape than most breweries.

Offline a10t2

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2015, 12:38:12 AM »
We're six figures in debt and we haven't even opened the doors!
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Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2015, 01:23:55 AM »
There is a saying "you can't have it on the boat and you can't have it on the moat".

Your TTB license has to be tied down to physical location. If you want to open bar then that is a municipal decision.

I would agree and disagree with Major. You need to make money. Higher margin you have less volume you need and via versa.

So if you sell it by yourself, you need to produce less beer then if you sell thru beer distributor.

If you are unsure about it, be cautious and do more research. Also how do you expect to be successful at it if you want to do it only part time?
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Offline Thirsty_Monk

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #13 on: June 08, 2015, 01:24:34 AM »

We're six figures in debt and we haven't even opened the doors!
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Offline klickitat jim

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Re: A Very Portland Brewery (With a Food Cart for a Tasting Room)
« Reply #14 on: June 08, 2015, 12:58:00 PM »
We're six figures in debt and we haven't even opened the doors!
No debt, 4 figures total invested, and my door is always open.